Zen and the Art of Petitioning

*Disclaimer: there isn't really any "Zen" to this piece. Zen just happens to be my dad's nickname for me, and let's face it, it contributes to a catchy title.

As an individual disability rights activist with no professional affiliations to larger groups, it can sometimes be extremely difficult to gain traction on issues I'm interested in addressing. When I first started my activism, I sent out hundreds of emails, only a few of which would get a response. It was extremely frustrating.

When I stepped back and reimagined my work from the perspective of the influential people or organizations I was writing, however, I could see why I wasn't getting an answer. I was one person writing one letter. How did they know I was even serious about what I was asking? More importantly, how easy was it to ignore me? I had no power behind my words and had no significant ability to influence anybody to act.

I needed to find a tool that could put more pressure and more people behind my words. I turned to petitions, and a whole new world opened up to me.

Many people are skeptical of petitioning as a tool. Having people sign their names doesn't mean they are devoted to a cause, and through sites such as Change.org, people can sign in support of an issue and forget about it, not contributing in any way beyond becoming another name on the page. However, I found Change.org to be my salvation after having difficulty reaching upper management of the Huffington Post about the fact that they did not have a disability content page like they have Women, LGBT, and Black Voices. I had sent a number of emails that received no response, either because they were buried in inboxes or because they were too low of a priority to gain an interest. Those emails couldn't provide sustained pressure. A petition could.

In a matter of weeks, my petition went from 20 signatures to 2,000, providing the pressure I needed to get a response from the busy heads of Huffington Post. Today, Huffington Post Accessibility is providing curated disability content from a wide spectrum of bloggers with disabilities, increasing the diversity of the site.

While what was achieved with Huffington Post was a victory, I'm not done.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post on DC-based research and advocacy organizations that do not recognize the disability community as a demographic. While they perform research on or advocacy for women, LGBT persons, and minority races, they do not recognize persons with disabilities as a minority group, despite the fact that we are the largest minority group in the world. After writing that blog post, I followed up with them about their stances. In most cases, I received silence. For one organization, I was told that they do not have enough resources to include disability as an issue or topic area.

There are over one billion people with disabilities around the globe. It is unacceptable that we are not recognized by these organizations. Alone, I have been unable to influence them, and without the pressure of more voices, they will not understand that the disability community not only exists, but that it is a significant global force that will not be ignored. My petition asks for these organizations to make the change and recognize the disability demographic.

It is time for the Pew Research Center, the Center for American Progress, and Human Rights First to extend the same recognition that they extend to all other marginalized identities by recognizing the disability community as a demographic, researching their opinions and issues, and providing statistics or solutions that can help to address these concerns.

The true lesson I have learned from petitioning is that it takes a persistent force to achieve significant change. I believe that petitioning can be a great tool for the disability community, especially since online petitioning tools are extremely valuable for a group that often faces physical barriers to organizing and includes members that may not always be physically or financially able to spend time pushing for change. By banding together and supporting each other through petitioning, we can produce the pressure and persistence that these organizations would never expect, and we can achieve significantly greater disability recognition across the globe.

If you would like to support my petition to the Pew Research Center, Center for American Progress, and Human Rights First, please click here.